Lost comedy precursor to Monty Python starring John Cleese and Graham Chapman is found after 48 years

Cleese is delighted as two new episodes of At Last the 1948 Show have been discovered - with an episode shown exclusively at this month's Radio Times Festival

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The BFI has unearthed a valuable piece of television history. Two missing episodes of the cult comedy At Last the 1948 Show – a precursor to Monty Python – have been found 48 years after they aired.

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The episodes from the 1967 show, which starred John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Marty Feldman, and “the lovely” Aimi Macdonald (with many other guest stars) had been thought lost until a fan named Mark Rigby alerted the British Film Institute, the organisation whose long-running Missing Believed Wiped initiative has unearthed an array of lost TV programmes from Doctor Who episodes to Dad’s Army.

And there’s more good news: you can get an exclusive first viewing of one of the newly-found programmes at the Radio Times Festival on Friday September 25th at 2.30pm. Even better, Tim Brooke-Taylor will be on hand to discuss the episode and the show. You can book your tickets here.

At Last the 1948 Show (a joke about how long it took TV commissioners to make a decision) is seen as an early flowering of surreal British television comedy which led to the creation of the Monty Python programmes two years later.

A must-see for any TV aficionado, the discovery is especially good news for Cleese because the episode we will be showing contains one of his favourite ever skits – the bookshop sketch.

In it he plays a bookshop owner who is increasingly exasperated with the absurd requests of Feldman’s customer Mr Pest  – it seems to have a distinct flavour of the famous Parrot Sketch immortalised later by Cleese and Michael Palin in their Monty Python years.

Cleese has often spoken of his fondness for the skit, which he frequently refers to in his recent memoirs So, Anyway as an example of brilliant writing. And he’s right. It’s superb.

He told RadioTimes.com: “I’m very thankful to the BFI and especially [BFI archivist and historian] Dick Fiddy for this latest discovery. The 1948 show contained material which could have gone straight into Monty Python.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u51sWz-f3zM

At Last the 1948 Show was essentially a range of spoofs of different broadcasting formats and occasional long-running gags, such as the recurring appearance of “the lovely” Aimi Macdonald as a presenter between sketches who is under the impression that she is the star of the show.

In one linking item she utters the words, “And now for something completely different…” the continuity announcement cliché which would resurface as a recurring motif in Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The Four Yorkshireman sketch, often seen as a Monty Python skit, also originated on At Last the 1948 Show.

Other sketches we will be showing include Chapman as a yokel shepherd and Feldman playing a sleep-starved TV presenter. And if you look carefully you can see putative Python Eric Idle in a supporting role in a funny spoof of a badly-shot TV crime melodrama…

Below is a clip of another newly discovered sketch.

Episodes of At Last the 1948 Show have continued to be found over the years – and the entire series survives in audio recordings because fans taped the live broadcasts. But the show comes from an era where television was fairly disposable and, after the broadcaster Associated Rediffusion lost its ITV franchise to Thames, the tapes were discarded.

The new addition means that we are now close to having everything from the whole two series. Last year the missing first and last episodes of the two series were retrieved from David Frost’s archive by Fiddy. 

“This latest discovery nearly completes the jigsaw of all the material from the series and I was so thrilled about it,” said Steve Bryant, senior curator at the BFI’s National Archive. “I have been looking for these episodes for over 25 years and I was delighted that the episode is a real gem.”

Barry Cryer, who appears in some of the sketches and was a warm up man for the programme, added: “This is brilliant – it really takes me back to that amazing era pre-Python and pre-The Goodies when we were just starting. We all knew each other.

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“At Last the 1948 Show was a great programme – and it owed a lot to [executive producer] David Frost who brought us all together. I always called David a practising catalyst because that was what he did – he put people together. Wonderful.”

See an exclusive screening of a missing episode of At Last the 1948 Show at a special BFI session at the Radio Times Festival on Friday 25th September. Book your tickets here